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(LEAD) Defense chief makes first-ever apology for military's bloody crackdown on 1980 Gwangju uprising

All Headlines 10:41 February 09, 2018

(ATTN: UPDATES with more remarks, details from 6th para; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Feb. 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense minister offered an official apology Friday for the military's brutal use of force against pro-democracy protesters in Gwangju in 1980.

"As the minister of national defense, I offer a sincere apology and (words of) comfort to Gwangju citizens that our military has left suffering in the process of the May 18 Democratization Movement 38 years ago," Song Young-moo said in a statement.

It came two days after the ministry's special fact-finding team announced the results of five months of investigation into suspicions about the military's role in the suppression of those protesting against the junta of Chun Doo-hwan.

The civilian-government panel said the Army launched helicopter gunship attacks on citizens in the southwestern city, with fighter jets armed with bombs on standby as a backup. The findings were based on the review of documents and interviews on witnesses.

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo reads out a statement on Feb. 9, 2018, offering an apology for the military's use of force against pro-democracy protesters in Gwangju in 1980. (Yonhap)

The ministry established the special committee last year after President Moon Jae-in ordered a thorough probe into related allegations.

Due to the legal limitation of the panel, however, its investigation is incomplete, Song pointed out.

He added his ministry will do its best to introduce special legislation on the Gwangju incident.

The minister also pledged to take "legal and systemic" measures to prevent the military from interfering in politics or being politically used.

He did not receive any question from media after reading out the statement.

Ministry officials said it's the first time that the country's defense chief has apologized for the military's reckless crackdown on the Gwangju uprising.

Students started protests against the Chun regime. As paratroopers beat and arrested them, many angry ordinary citizens joined the demonstrations.

As the troops fired into a crowd, protesting civilians began to arm themselves, forming a defense force called the Citizens Army.

The bloodshed led to the deaths of around 200 people, and 1,000 others were wounded, according to a formal tally. But other estimates put the death toll at 1,000-2,000.

Military leaders at that time claimed the use of force against the civilians was accidental, but the investigation team's findings suggest that it was a premeditated crackdown.


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